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June 11, 2020

Inside Amazon's $4B Covid-19 response

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    Following several Covid-19 outbreaks at Amazon warehouses across the country, the company is dedicating billions of dollars to ramp up Covid-19 testing, as well as protection, for its workers.

    The 3 biggest questions about Covid-19 testing, answered

    Amazon ramps up Covid-19 testing for workers

    As the new coronavirus spread across the country this year, Amazon warehouses stayed open to fill orders. But, following several Covid-19 outbreaks at Amazon warehouses in New York, Colorado, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Oregon, the company in March and April launched an emergency response plan.

    For instance, Amazon began putting tape on the floor to mark where workers can stand to ensure six feet of distance between each other—an important task considering some warehouses contain between 600 and 800 workers at a time, the New York Times reports.  Many facilities also require that workers wear personal protective equipment (PPE) and hand out masks at the entrance. The facilities also stagger break times to reduce congestion, according to the Times.

    Now, Amazon is taking additional steps to protect workers, including a $4 billion investment into its coronavirus response. A large portion of the funding, about $1 billion, will be invested into "regular testing of all Amazonians, including those showing no symptoms," CEO Jeff Bezos said in April.

    As such, sources told CNBC that the company is currently working to increase testing capacity to test the majority of the company's warehouse workers every two weeks.

    According to CNBC, part of that plan involves establishing several diagnostic labs that could provide workers with the tests and then analyze the samples to determine whether the employees test positive or negative for Covid-19. According to multiple sources, the warehouse workers would be able to collect their own samples using nasal swabs under the supervision of a clinical professional. However, CNBC says the company is also exploring other testing methods, including pulse oximeters, which measure oxygen levels in the blood.

    The company has established a team made up of research scientists, program managers, procurement specialists, and software engineers who are dedicated to scaling up testing efforts and building the new labs. Some of the first labs will likely be established in California and Kentucky, according to CNBC.

    A spokesperson for Amazon also told CNBC the company has already launched a pilot Covid-19 testing program at a few facilities. "We've started our first small-scale testing pilot," the spokesperson said. "We don't know exactly yet how it's going to shape up, but we continue to believe it's worth trying."

    Inside one of Amazon's testing sites

    The spokesperson did not disclose which facilities are testing the pilot, but the company allowed the New York Times to take a look into one testing facility in Kent, Washington, 20 miles south of Seattle.

    According to the Times, once employees entered the testing site, they were handed a nasal swab and a test tube in a small plastic bag. The workers then follow instructions on how to administer the test and place their samples in a bin. Medical professionals from Concentra are on hand to oversee the tests.

    CNBC said employees who test positive for the virus are referred to online medical consultations through Grand Rounds.

    During the consultations, a medical professional usually instructs the employee to either stay home or seek more care. While employees who test negative are not referred to the consultations, they can still refer to Grand Rounds for questions about the virus.

    Amazon in March also said employees who show symptoms of the virus, test positive, or are in quarantine are eligible for up to two weeks of paid sick leave, but several employees have reported receiving a fraction of their pay or no pay even though they were eligible for paid leave under the policy.

    So far, Amazon has tested 1,000 out of more than 3,000 workers at the Kent facility, the Times reports. But expanding the program across the country would require the company to provide millions of Covid-19 diagnostic tests over the next few months, according to CNBC (Farr/Palmer, CNBC, 6/9; Weise/Fremson, New York Times, 6/10).

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